Getting Away – Siem Reap, Cambodia

Getting Away – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Vietnamese Floating Village: Mr. Kunn at the Jasmine Guest House offered to arrange the tour for us (taxi to and from village and boat ride for $10 U.S. each), but we decided to go with Thea, our tuk-tuk driver for the week (who gave us a discount for using his services another day). It’s best to see sunrise over the muddy water of Tonle Sap Lake, so we had to leave at 4 a.m. The roads are appalling, especially by tuk-tuk; in fact, it was quite unnerving to feel the entire tuk-tuk shake as it rolled over the ruts in the dirt path. Fortunately, it was dry season, so we didn’t have to worry about getting stuck in the mud. Thea pointed out that during high tide, people have to take their houses (already on stilts) and move up the road to drier ground. Once at the dock we climbed on a rickety boat that had to be pushed away with a long pole before the motor started. I held on tight to my seat (a deck chair placed in the middle of the boat) as we roared away.

A view of children outside the schoolhouse in the Vietnamese Fishing Village. (Photo by Justin Holt)
We boated out past a floating restaurant and turned to see the sun coming up over the houseboats and mangrove-like sea plants. We stopped by a fish restaurant and gift shop to buy local crafts before heading back to port. Children were rowing to school in small wooden canoes as we drifted by, and we watched families waking up, washing laundry in the filthy brown water and then brushing their teeth from the same source. Back on land you can buy food from the stalls, where you’ll find tin tubs of fresh – as in still alive and furiously flopping – fish and live chickens. Everything looked dirty and smelled fishy, but it was amazing to watch the throng of people. The harbor is the departure point for Phnom Penh, so a wave of globe-trotters were boarding speedboats when we were there.

The crocodiles at Jasmine's Crocodile Farm love cool showers.
The crocodiles at Jasmine’s Crocodile Farm love cool showers.
Crocodile farms: Crocodiles are popular in Cambodia because they’re easy to raise and draw a large profit. Mr. Kunn, the owner of Jasmine Guest House, also has his own crocodile farm, called Jasmine’s. He keeps the baby crocs in a tank at the guesthouse and transplants the bigger ones to an enclosure about 10 minutes away. The crocodiles were lazing in the sun when we came to visit – the place isn’t so special, but it’s interesting to hear the history. Crocodile farms are a great source of profit because owners can breed crocodiles, sell some to other owners as startups and raise the others. A grown crocodile can fetch $35 U.S. when it’s sold to make wallets or shoes. The entire premise is a little sad, but if you want to get closer to the animals than you could at a zoo, it’s worth it. We got to hold a two-week-old baby born with no tail. Beware of the smell (it’s not the best thing for someone already made sensitive by food poisoning, as I found out). The trip was $5 each for tickets and $2 for motorbike taxi (manned by guesthouse employees).

ADDITIONAL THANKS: Along with Mr. Kunn, owner of the Jasmine Guest House, I’d like to thank Thea, our ever-so-friendly and unflappable tuk-tuk driver in Siem Reap. He gave us the memory of a lifetime by taking us to feed the wild monkeys at Angkor Wat; when we brought out the bananas, the dozen moody primates quickly overran his tuk-tuk and declared it their territory. If you plan on visiting Angkor Wat, feel free to call upon his services. He can be reached at theakingkong@hotmail.com or (855) 12-414-866.

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